On a Wave: Tulalip artist Nathan Kix ‘holds it down’ for Native American and hip-hop culture

Nathan Kix.
Photo/Kalvin Validillez, Tulalip News

 

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

 

Cool, calm and collected is the demeanor of Tulalip hip-hop artist, Nathan Kix. Still in his early twenties he has his mind set on the future, looking to be the first Native artist to crossover to music mainstream. Many Indigenous rappers such as Litefoot and Red Cloud have seen success and have spread their voices throughout reservations nationwide. However, their fan base has been limited to the Native American community.

Nathan and his team have created a unique modern sound that emphasizes his clever wordplay. Until recently Nathan was releasing singles on Soundcloud, which revealed glimpses of his musical direction. He released his debut project this past December, on his birthday, in the form of a six-track EP titled Autumn which has received positive reviews across social media. And he is only beginning, stating his future projects will each contain a unique sound as he plans to build a strong catalog during the course of his music career.

With a fan base that continues to grow by the day, I have no doubt in my mind that Kix could be the first Native rapper to break down genre barriers. I personally met Nathan a few years back while we were both working as concierge’ for the T Spa at the Tulalip Resort and Casino. As an avid hip-hop enthusiast myself, I would often talk music, recite Jay Z lyrics and even drop the occasional freestyle with Nate during downtime at the spa (when no guests were around, of course). Which is why I was excited to sit down and talk with the young emcee about his new release, culture, and of course the genre of music that captivated us both at a young age: hip-hop.

 

Let’s start off by talking about your background. Has growing up on the reservation affected your writing?

For the most part I’ve kept my culture modest, up until this point. Solely for the fact I feel I don’t want to expose too much too early. I want to appeal to as many people as possible, strictly through human experience, without playing the culture card. I don’t want to use that to gain popularity. I want to build my skill level. So, at this point it hasn’t [affected the writing] but it does inspire why I want to do this.

 

What is your writing process?

When I first started, I used to write without a beat, which was a burden when it came time to record because I couldn’t stay on beat. But I stuck with it and kept writing. Once I figured out what bars were, it was a field day. With the writing process now, I am very punch line oriented. I studied Lil’ Wayne’s delivery and wittiness, and took those components and made it my own. When writing today, I will loop the beat and figure out the exact flow first, like how many syllables I can fit into particular verse or line and once I figure that out, I’ll pause the beat and keep flowing in my head, until I get it down, and then plop the words in.

 

Was there a defining moment when you knew this is what you’re supposed to do?

I started writing raps around seven or eight, but they were trash and I was one of those people who want to be good at something right away. I realized [at that time] I wasn’t good, so I held off until I was about sixteen, and then I gave it another shot.

At the beginning of my sophomore year, there was this one girl who I was trying to, you know, holler at. She actually asked me to have a rap battle on paper. I was like ‘oh okay,’ you know whatever it takes to keep the conversation going. Ever since then I’ve enjoyed the process [of writing], so that was the defining moment for me. Whenever I get the chance to talk to her, I still let her know she was the one who got the ball rolling.

 

What’s the story behind the name Nathan Kix?

Roughly around that same time [in high school], I started getting into personal style. The one thing I enjoyed the most about an outfit were the shoes, that’s switched up now, but I was known in high school for having all the Jordan’s and all the fly shoes. People identified me as the dude who had forty different pairs of shoes. Every day, for at least a month and a half, I wore a different pair. That’s basically where the name came from.

 

How important is originality?

Originality is everything. I can’t emphasize that enough. If you want to progress a genre and make your stamp, originality is going to take you there. There are artists out there who cut and paste styles from already established artists and [by doing so] they make it well known that they aren’t on their own wave. Originality should be the focal point when becoming an artist.

 

Who is your biggest musical inspiration?

It’s a toss-up between two or three people. I really fell in love with Kanye West’s music when he came out with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I liked Kanye [before] but that album really sparked my interest and made me want to become a better artist. Drake always had a huge impact on the way I approach the phycology of writing. And, Jim Morrison for the creativity and the depth he brings to writing music.

 

If you could collaborate with one artist who would it be? Producer?

A$AP Rocky. For producer, I have to go with ’Ye (Kanye West).

 

How do you feel about the local hip-hop scene?

I don’t feel like there really is one, but we definitely need it. I feel like it would create a lot of creative ventures for people. If you have all these creative minds such as videographers, photographers, and graphic designers coming together, who can contribute to improve the image of an artist, the scene can essentially build everybody up.

 

Where do you see your art taking you? 

Representing all the First Nations people. Like, the Shoni Schimmel of music. Basically what I am trying to do is bring Natives into the mainstream. Shoni Schimmel dipped her finger in the water; I want to be the person to create the biggest wave out of [the water]. When I do, I want to look back at my people and help them find a way to creatively express themselves, because there are passionate Natives out here and I want to help create a market for them.

 

What separates you from your competition?

The awareness of how to be different; I like to incorporate the modern sound with my own textures. I have a producer who I work with, Paul Koshak. He produced Autumn, well ninety-eight percent of it. Mason Gobin, who is also a tribal member, produced half of [the song] 100 Thousand.

I think a lot of rappers aren’t giving it their all, as far as song content. I feel like that is my sole focus and I am able to deliver that in a very witty way.

 

 

Why did you decide to go with the Moon, in traditional Native artwork, for your album cover?

The moon is representing that something new is about to happen. The moon comes every night and provides you with a new day. So in a way, it is the same concept of Autumn. You see the leaves falling every autumn, signifying new change.

Most people go with a summer vibe with their music because everyone likes to feel good. My favorite season is autumn because the gloominess it has. When the leaves fall, there is a gap of time where it feels like nothing is happening. That’s the overall vibe: transition.

I feel like I made a huge change in my life, within this last year, mentally. It felt like I was dropping as many leaves as possible, I still feel like I’m in that phase, but I know they are going to grow back and blossom as beautiful as ever. That’s the metaphor behind [the artwork and concept].

 

Prior to the release of Autumn, you dropped a documentary that showed you in the studio as well as in the community. Shortly after the EP came out, you released a music video for your song Gravity. How important were those videos to your overall presentation?

They were very crucial, especially the documentary because it gave people a taste of what exactly I am about. A lot of people may perceive me as bashful; when in reality I’m just introverted. The documentary allowed me to show what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, without having to spoon-feed it to you.

The [music] video was not a calculated move. We shot it back in the summertime and we didn’t actually have anything planned for it. People were responding and saying they really appreciated Autumn so director Luis Perez – a phenomenal photographer/videographer – sent me a text and wanted to release the video. We picked the date and dropped it on Christmas Eve.

 

The EP has received a lot of love – what has been the best feedback you received?

I enjoy any type of feedback I get, but the best feedback has been from people I didn’t even expect to give it a listen. Sometimes when walking around, people will stop me and tell me they’ve been listening to my songs. When they tell me they like my music in person, that’s what I appreciate the most.

 

You’ve talked about your collective a lot, the group of creative minds that you work with. How important is it to have your group with you, as you gain more exposure going forward?

I feel like it’s necessary to have a team because you’re not going to always be the one with the right idea. There are decisions that have to be made, that have nothing to do with the craft itself. Having a team behind you to take things on, such as business ventures, that is something that an artist can benefit from.

Having your own team is basically like having your own label. I feel like I would rather give a percentage [of profits] to the people I know. I think most artists are taking this route because they realized that record labels will rip your soul apart. When it’s with people you know, you feel a more genuine connection.

 

Do you plan on staying on the independent grind or would you sign the right deal?

If they had my agenda in mind, and allowed me to operate at the speed that I’m comfortable working at, I might consider it. Even then, I don’t believe I would fully commit to a label. If anything, I would like to do a publishing deal to handle all the business ventures such as marketing.

 

What is one record label you would consider?

I’m not sure if I would necessarily fit at any of the labels. But I would maybe consider [signing a deal with] G.O.O.D. Music (Kanye’s record label) because they have a lot of diversity going on over there. I love OVO (Drake’s record label) and what they are doing; they have a certain aesthetic they are keeping. I don’t feel like I sound anything like them, so I don’t think I would mesh well, in that aspect, same with T.D.E. (Top Dawg Entertainment, record label associated with Kendrick Lamar)

 

 

A top to bottom Autumn performance would be lit! Do you plan on performing in the near future?

Yeah, like I mentioned before, the [local hip hop] scene needs to be more prominent. I would like to work with the right promoters to make sure that our shows are the best they can be for us, and for the people as well. I also have a lot more songs than the six-track EP, so we’re looking at possible set lists and looking at other local acts as well. There’s a lot of talent around here and we want to do multiple shows. There are definitely plans for live performances; we’re just ironing out the details.

 

Who are you currently listening to and who is on your top-three emcee list?

Most of the time what I like to listen to is the polar opposite of what I make. Right now it’s a lot of Lil Uzi Vert, this artist named 6lack he made that song PRBLMS, I love that joint. I’ve also been bumping a lot of Frank Ocean. Syd, from [the music group] The Internet, just dropped a solo project that is amazing. I also go back in time too; I love The Doors.

And for top three, these are not in order and they all have reasons for being on here: Kanye West, Drake, and Travis Scott. I would say they are the most influential to me.

 

If you could change a common misconception about the hip-hop culture what would it be?

I want people to respect how artistic and influential this genre is. Because, agree with it or not, rap is the new rock and roll.

 

How about in Native culture?

The stereotypes. Also, that we are unexposed to the world outside of the reservation.

 

What do you want tribal members to take away from your music?

That there is somebody out here looking to expose our culture to the world.

And my advice for young aspiring Native artists is to go with your gut instinct on what exactly you want to portray yourself as, and make sure that everything you’re doing stays true to yourself and is original as well.

 

Autumn is currently available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify and Soundcloud with plans of a physical release in the near future. To view the documentary, the music video for Gravity, and for additional information visit the Nathan Kix Facebook page.

A Dollar and A Dream

Cover art

Cover art for Turnin Padez, courtesy of Saykred Thoughtz

 

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

 

Saykred Thoughtz is a product of Derek Prather. Derek Prather is a product of Tulalip. Therefore it isn’t so much a matter of simple logic, but homegrown necessity when Saykred emphatically states, “I do it for the rez!” on the chorus of his most popular YouTube music video The Rez.

Prather, who’s music stage name is Saykred Thoughtz, is a twenty-four year old American hip hop artist born and raised within the boundaries of the Tulalip Reservation. He is an enrolled tribal member, while also being a member of the hip hop group Native Instinct with his cousins Komplex Kai (Kisar Jones-Fryberg) and Hapalo (Chuckie Jones). Most importantly, he is a proud father of four beautiful children, Tessa, Kaden, Maia and recent addition Alissa Mae. “I love my kids more than anything in the world. They are my inspiration to do better at everything,” says Prather.

 

Prather with his children, Tessa, Kaden and Maia.Photo courtesy of Derek Prather

Prather with his children, Tessa, Kaden and Maia.
Photo courtesy of Saykred Thoughtz

 

It is often the case that those who grow up on Native American reservations are exposed to much of what the outside world only experiences indirectly, through mediums like television or literature. For Prather it started when he was born submerged in poverty and the beda?chelh system, continuing into his teenage years when he was ditching school and committing juvenile crimes, and peaking when he found himself as a father dealing with domestic disputes in a co-destructive relationship, all the while battling the nightmare that is addiction.

The seemingly never-ending cycle of self-destructive behaviors came to an abrupt halt when he “hit rock bottom”, as Prather describes it like only a hip hop poet can, “when this life makes you mad enough to kill, when you want something bad enough to steal, when you feel like you had it up to here cause you mad enough to scream, but you sad enough to tear…that’s rock bottom.”

Prather hit rock bottom three years ago when being on the losing side of his battle with addiction, self-medicating with prescription medication and alcohol, ultimately led to him having his children taken from his custody. It was at that moment that Prather made the choice to better his life, both for himself and his children, once and for all. He voluntarily went to treatment at Valley General to get clean and has remained clean for nearly three years now. He came out of treatment with a renewed sense of purpose as a man and father. Prather got his job back in Tulalip Construction Housing as a laborer, got a house and car, everything your supposed to have as the man of a household. It didn’t take long for him to have his custody case dropped and be reunited with his children.

“Battling my demon of addiction was the hardest thing that I’ve had to do. You go through struggles emotionally when learning how to be a man in life and taking care of your own,” says Prather. “For me, my kids are everything. They were my reason to get clean. Being a father to them every day, seeing their smiling faces every day is what keeps me going. They are my inspiration and motivation to be the best father and man that I can be.”

The renewed sense of purpose that came from getting clean was compounded when he regained custody of children. Prather realized his dream of being clean and having his kids back had come true. If he could overcome such trying tribulations as those then he could do anything he put his mind to. Prather chose to go all in on the dream of becoming a successful music artist.

“I realized music had always been there. During my highest of highs and my lowest of lows, music was always with me. Since I was a little kid I’ve always been intrigued by music. I started in guitar lessons and piano lessons as a kid and from that point I learned to love and appreciate music in all its forms,” Prather says while reminiscing about how he fell in love with music as an art form. “It evolved from there. In sixth grade I was playing the drums and just trying to be in some kind of music. Then when I was thirteen, my older cousin Komplex Kai created his first rap album. I was able to witness that whole process from beginning to end. That intrigued me to start writing and soon after I started going to Kai’s studio and never stopped.

rapper-preforming

“Every life experience inspires an artist. Everything that you go through that pisses you off or makes you happy or turns you around is supposed to make an artist think differently about his music. Everything that happened to me and that I went through, afterwards I chose to go home and write about it. My music tells my story. If you were to go back and listen to all my music from when I first began to now, it would be like listening to an audio book of all the stages of my life. From my dad going in and out of prison, to my mom doing stupid stuff, and me being taken away from my parents and getting arrested about something dumb. I would write about all that until I learned how to turn those words on paper into musical inspiration. I made it relatable, so that someone going through those same experience can hear my music and know I’m real, that I actually went through the same things they are.”

In 2013, Prather started working on his first professionally produced and mastered hip hop album, titled Turnin Pagez that will be released Friday, May 1. He invested in himself, spending every spare dollar he had on studio time at Dark Room Productions, a local independent studio in Everett. Paying between $50-$100/hour to make music at the highest possible quality is what separates the professional from the amateur.

“It’s easy for people to make music from their house, but it shows how serious you are as an artist when you’re willing to pay for studio time and leasing rights,” Prather explains. “As an artist, it’s exciting to say that I have leasing rights to everything on my upcoming album. That’s a hard thing to achieve for independents. Because I’m not signed to a label that makes me an independent artist, so I’ve learned how to independently market my music and myself. Showing people how serious I am as an artist paves the way and opens doors.”

The upcoming release of the album Turnin Pagez has multiple meanings for Prather. First, it shows what is possible with a dollar and dream. Second, this project has been two years in the making, it’s been so much of an investment, financially and emotionally, and most importantly it demonstrates the personal growth that Prather has gone through.

“There’s a lot of truth to this album, a lot of things that I’ve went through personally and saw firsthand coming up,” explains Prather. “There’s a song on there about the way a person that’s battling addiction thinks of the world and sees the world. How that person thinks about people seeing them at their worst, how people think about them. Basically, it’s putting myself in a perspective of a person that’s at rock bottom and has nothing. I’ve been there, I know what rock bottom looks like, but I’ve also made it through.

“This album is special. I tried my hardest to push myself out of my comfort zone to make every different kind of music that I can create in order to broaden my audience. Any person who likes hip hop just a little bit will find a few tracks they’ll really enjoy. It has a song for everyone basically. There’s a lot of culture in it, too. Anyone from Tulalip, anyone from Indian country who has grown up on a reservation will be able to relate to this album.”

Turnin Pagez is a collection of Prather’s thoughts obsessively turned over and milled into substance, and that is its strongest point. He captures the struggle of addiction so concisely. A former product of that, Prather delivers an album that pushes aside all his many past battles. The psycho-analysis is public, it’s honest and it’s executed through the best writing and rapping of his career.

“I called the album Turnin Pagez because I have filled so many notebooks with lyrics, rhymes, and my thoughts. When I flip through those notebooks I’ve realized it’s symbolic. This album, for me, means I’m turning a different direction in life. I’m turning to a new chapter in life. From the things I talk about in this album, like my battle with addiction and domestic issues that I went through in the past four years, I’m turning the page and moving on to a healthy and brighter future for me and my kids. This album symbolizes that.”

Regardless of where his career in the hip hop industry takes him, Prather has enjoyed the journey and looks forward to what the future has to offer. Even though he has lofty expectations for himself as a hip hop artist, Prather says he owes everything to his cousins, Komplex Kai and Hapalo, and the Tulalip community for bringing him up in the hip hop game. “They are what got me to where I am at today with my music. Our studio was at aunt Uppy’s house. It was like our crew studio; every day and every night we were there making music. It was cool though man, it was a good environment to grow up in with our music.

“I’ve come a long way since those early days of aunt Uppy’s music sessions. The basics of the hip hop business is shaking hands and meeting people and showing people that you are serious about your craft. I was determined to show everyone how serious I was. I was fortunate to land D-Sane, who ended up mastering my album. He mastered a lot of music for Macklemore, so that’s a really big deal for me to have someone on his level be a part of my album. Plus, he got me a Crooked-I feature on my album. He’s a huge West Cost hip hop artist and to have him on my album is so amazing.”

His battle to overcome life’s trials, however righteous, has now translated musically. Fans of Prather’s music will be able to identify with his wounds, hurts and unpleasantries. From a personal vacation from stress, to the remorseful father who once lost his children, to past beefs with his girl, Prather unleashes his truth with no filter. While this is an exciting, polished album, Turnin Pagez accompanying music marks Prather’s independent arrival. He has released a candid and thought provoking piece of work. It’s something that many will find refreshing.

Prather’s album, or more accurately Saykred Thoughtz album Turnin Pagez comes out Friday, May 1. To commemorate his achievement there will be an album release concert held at Tony Vs Garage on Hewitt Ave in Everett on May 1. Doors open at 9:00 p.m. and admission is free, with a $5 voluntary donation being accepted to support the artists. Local fans will see Tulalip rappers Komplex Kai and Hapalo open the show before Prather performs the entire Turnin Pagez album.

Hard copies of the Turnin Pagez will be available for only $10 beginning May 1 at Priest Point Grocery (aka Chris’s Store) in Tulalip. For the digitally inclined, the Turnin Pagez album will be online at the iTunes store, Amazon, CD Baby, and SoundCloud websites the following week.

 

You can sample some of Saykred Thoughtz music on youtube:


Contact Micheal Rios, mrios@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov

 

Christian Parrish Takes The Gun Demonstrates the Fancy Dance

timthumbBy Toyacoyah Brown on December 10, 2013, PowWows.com

Christian Parrish Takes The Gun (aka Supaman) is a Crow hip-hop artist and dancer. In this video he talks about the origins of the Fancy Dance and shows off his footwork style. You can see why he was chosen to participate in the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Did you get a chance to read Sings In The Timber’s article on the art of pow wow photography? There’s a great shot of Supaman featured in the article.

You can check out a short clip of the dancers featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade here on PowWows.com.